Thursday, August 12, 2010

Closely Observed Trains by Bohumil Hrabal (Abacus 1965)

My grandfather again, not to fall too far short of the standard set by Great-grandfather Luke, was a hypnotist who did his act in small circuses, and the whole town saw in his hypnotism nothing more nor less than an ambitious bid to stroll his way through life as idly as possible. But when the Germans crossed our frontier in March to occupy the whole country, and were advancing in the direction of Prague, our grandfather was the only one who went out to meet them, nobody else but our grandfather, and he set out to defy those Germans by means of his hypnotic powers, to hold back the advancing tanks by the force of suggestion. He went striding along the highroad with his eyes fixed on the leading tank, the spearhead of that entire motorized army. In this tank, waist-deep in the cabin, stood an officer of the Reich, with a black beret with the death's-head badge and the crossed bones on his head, and my grandfather kept on going steadily forward, straight towards this tank, with his hands stretched out, and his eyes spraying towards the Germans the thought: 'Turn round, and go back!'

And really, that first tank halted. The whole army stood still. Grandfather touched the leading tank with his outstretched fingers, and kept pouring out towards it the same suggestion: 'Turn round and go back, turn round and . . .' And then the lieutenant gave a signal with his pennant, and the tank changed its mind and moved forward, but Grandfather never budged, and the tank ran over him and crushed his head, and after that there was nothing in the way of the German army.

Afterwards Dad went out to look for Grandfather's head. That leading tank was standing motionless outside Prague, waiting for a crane to come and release it, because Grandfather's head was mashed between the tracks. And the tracks being turned just the way they were, Dad begged to be allowed to free Grandfather's head and bury it with his body, as was only right for a Christian.

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